By Yoon Ja-young
Patients who go to the top hospitals in Korea usually wait for more than an hour but they usually see their doctor for only about four minutes ― and this situation is only getting worse.
According to Seoul National University Hospital (SNUH) data submitted to Rep. Shin Hyun-young of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, doctors at SNUH, which is one of the capital's three most popular hospitals along with Samsung Medical Center and Asan Medical Center, spent on average 4 minutes and 26 seconds seeing each outpatient between January and August this year. That is even shorter than last year when they spent 4 minutes and 37 seconds per patient.
By department, cardiology, endocrinology and metabolism outpatients saw their doctors for 3 minutes and 28 seconds on average. Urologists, nephrologists, gastroenterologists, doctors of rehabilitation medicine, hemato oncologists and neurologists all had less than four minutes to spend on each of their patients.
Doctors at the large hospitals say it is structurally impossible for them to spend more time on each patient, as they have to see at least 100 patients each day. A doctor who was trained at SNUH said some of her professors didn't even have time for lunch.
"They made do with a piece of rice cake or even skipped lunch. Patients must be angry after waiting for so long, but doctors were there working all the while," she said.
Rep. Shin said the big hospitals in Seoul are absorbing outpatients from around the country like a "black hole." Patients' distrust in local clinics and the high-speed railways across the country, which make the hospitals more accessible to everyone, have accelerated this concentration. Despite having to be on the waiting list for months before seeing the doctors they want, the number of outpatients at SNUH increased 9.2 percent during the January-August period.
"To tackle the polarization in healthcare system, there should be systematic change so that university hospitals only take care of serious cases while minor cases are handled by primary health clinics," the lawmaker said.